Athletes Should Stick to Sports

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Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan once said “Republicans buy shoes, too”. He was referring to the fact that he was a registered Democrat but wouldn’t support Michael Dukakis in the 1988 Presidential Election for fear it would hurt his endorsement deal with Nike as well as being the face of the NBA. Steve Kerr obviously didn’t listen to his former Chicago Bull teammate when the head coach of the World Champion Golden State Warriors criticized Donald Trump after the billionaire’s win in last November’s US Election. He doubled down on his comments after Trump was inaugurated and again after a ban was issued that prevented residents from known terrorist countries from entering the US.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is also critical of Trump. He even donned a t-shirt to show his support of the Women’s March on Washington two days after the inauguration. I’m not sure if either Kerr or Popovich voted for Trump’s Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton, but judging by their ongoing diatribe towards the US President, I’m guessing they, like the rest who didn’t vote for Trump, are not over the results of the election. Well, they better get over it. They should be more focused on the people who DID vote for Trump. You know, the ones who buy season tickets to their games or the team’s merchandise to wear with pride. The ones who, in the end, pay their salary. Are they going to say: “No thanks, I’ll go work elsewhere?” Mind you, Kerr, being in the liberal utopia of California, is in a much easier position than Popovich, who works in Republican heavy Texas.

The issue here is not about speaking your mind but rather is your actions becoming a detriment to the team? Coaches often preach to players about putting the team first ahead of themselves. Maybe Kerr and Popovich should set an example and do the same. What’s more, one would think Popovich would be above jumping on a bandwagon to appease a fringe political group like he did at the Women’s March on Washington. But it goes to show the hate for Trump is greater than one’s love for basketball.

On the other side, goaltender Tim Thomas should have went to the White House after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. His absence overshadowed what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I, like Thomas, disagree with Obama’s policies but he put himself ahead of the team and that is wrong. No doubt in my mind the boycott hurt the Bruins’ chances of repeating as champs.

Making political statements is not restricted to the presidency. You will all recall San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick deciding to first sit then later kneel rather than stand for the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season to protest the alleged police brutality on black men in America. Has Kaepernick’s stunt helped blacks get more respect? Or better yet, how has it helped his team? On both counts, absolutely nothing. What Kaepernick has done was make himself look selfish and a once proud franchise the laughing stock of the league. You don’t have to listen to Stephen A Smith to understand that. But just in case you still don’t get it…

Do the political opinion of sports figures matter to us? Some think they do. There are reporters who cover the New England Patriots that continue to ask Tom Brady questions about his friendship with Trump. But all he wants to talk about is football, deflated or not. There will be those who are glad that athletes, coaches, managers, and even commissioners are getting involved in politics. But I would be hard-pressed to call them sports fans. I would take bandwagon jumpers over these fakes any day.

A lot of people would point to boxing great Muhammad Ali as an example of someone who brought social injustice to the forefront of the sporting world. Here’s the thing, Ali played a sport where he controlled his own destiny. It is easy to form opinions when you play in an individual sport like boxing, or tennis, or golf, and still be at the top of your game. Compare that to a team sport like basketball where you have dozens of players with varying opinions. Disagreements among players can hinder a team’s success. I also think Ali thought long and hard before expressing his opinion rather than go with a knee-jerk reaction that you often see from today’s athletes. Jim Brown is another highly regarded sports figure who is also looked at as a community activist. But the Cleveland Brown legend is not playing football, having stepped away from the game in 1966 at the age of 30. He has more time on his hands to devote to these causes. And unlike Kerr and Popovich, Brown holds no grudges against Trump and is looking forward to seeing how he does over the next four years.

While athletes are good at playing sports, whether it is baseball, football, hockey, or basketball, when it comes to politics, their opinion carries no more weight than yours or mine. In fact, athletes, musicians, and actors who make political statements are not worthy of even being called rank amateurs. Sports figures are paid to win championships, that’s it. If their political views are interfering with the success of the team they should either shut up or step away from the game. That may be a tough pill to swallow but the last time I checked, no one won a championship by speaking at a protest rally.

Also see:

Ali: Sport’s Original Trash Talker
Sports is Not a Platform for Activism
The Curse of Rush Limbaugh

 

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Stability Key to a Successful Team?

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stability-key-to-successDoes one guy make a franchise? A better question would be does one guy (or two or three), in one position, who has held that position for a long time, make a championship calibre team? When you look at Bill Belichick and how he along with Tom Brady have help make the New England Patriots the NFL team every other NFL team wants to be, the answer would be yes.

Another team that fit the mould was the Toronto Blue Jays between 1983 and 1993. They either made the playoffs or were battling for a playoff spot each and every year. That despite the large percentage of player turnover due to trades or free agency. Players come and go but the one constant is the personnel in charge, that being Club President Paul Beeston, General Manager Pat Gillick, and Manager Cito Gaston.

That same line of thinking applies to the college and junior ranks. Say what you want about the London Knights, but Dale Hunter and company have been able to maintain their stronghold in the OHL because they have had the same coach, management, and ownership the last 20 years. Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Nick Saban have been able to lead successful programs at their respective schools because they have been given room to develop and grow. Mike Babcock and Jim Harbaugh are early in their coaching tenures with their current teams. It is only a matter of time before they find success.

There is, however, another side to this argument. No question when there is little change to the team structure whether it is management, coaching, or players, you will succeed. But while some moves are done for the sake of change, sometimes teams tend to hang on to certain people a little too long. Take Jeff Fisher for example. He was fired in December after 5 years with the St Louis/LA Rams. When you combine his last ten years in Tennessee, Fisher had only five winning seasons. You can make that same comparison with Lindy Ruff. He has been behind the bench of an underachieving Buffalo Sabres team for 15 seasons (save for one in 1998-1999). We’ve seen former Coach of the Year winners get the axe the following season, however these two did absolutely nothing for their teams and yet they managed to avoid execution.

But for the most part, having people in place who know what they are doing and not having to decide whether to go look for a new coach/manager/general manager/president means putting a focus on what really matters, and that is winning championships. These people are where they are because they know how to win. They have a plan and stick to it. They don’t care that others don’t like what they do.

I believe management owes it to the people who got you there by giving them long-term contracts or other perks. Everyone does have a shelf life. There will be a time where Belichick will put away the headset and Brady will hang up the cleats for good. But that’s a fork on the road that will be eventually be reached when the time comes. Otherwise, why be in a hurry to get there?

Also see:

The Leafs Got Babcock… Now What?
It’s About Time John Gibbons Gets His Due
Winners Blaze Their Own Trail

 

Can You Smell What This Rock is Cooking?

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can-you-smell-what-this-rock-is-cookingIt was great to hear former Montreal Expo Tim Raines getting a spot alongside baseball’s greats in the Hall of Fame. Like my boyhood idol the late Gary Carter, and Andre Dawson before him, Raines in my mind belongs there with his former Expo teammates.

Rickey Henderson was considered the greatest lead-off hitter in the game. But with apologies to the former Blue Jay and Athletic, and a Hall of Famer himself, Raines was the greatest in that position of all time. He personified what a lead-off hitter was. Raines got on base, stole bases, scored runs, and even provided some clutch hits. And he did it with a team that sat in a so-called small market.

It took 10 years for the man they called Rock to get elected by baseball writers so the question remains: what took him so long? Raines was his final year of eligibility and would have had to wait another 6 years before being eligible again by the veterans committee.

I went through his previous 9 years of eligibility. Raines was on 24.3% of the ballot in his first year in 2008. That year, Rich (Goose) Gossage was elected in his 9th year of eligibility (at the time eligible players had their name on the ballot for 15 years). Gossage was the only player to get elected that year. Jim Rice was 2.8% shy of getting in but managed to get in the Hall the following year, his 15th and final year of eligibility. Dawson had 66% percent in his 7th year. He got the call in 2010.

The percentage of votes Raines got in 2009 dipped to 22%. That year Rice and Henderson went into the Hall. Henderson did so on his first ballot. Every year afterwards, the percentage of votes Raines got increased by an average of 6%. During that time, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas became Hall of Famers. In 2016, Raines received 69.8% of the vote.

Raines should not have waited this long to get the call. I always had an issue with the baseball writers when it comes to selecting players for the Hall of Fame. Especially now when many writers protested the so-called steroid era by abstaining. That to me is a disgrace to the profession and amounts to treason worthy of Edward Snowdon status.

But that’s another column for another day. Right now, it is a moment of celebration for those who followed the Expos. Raines now has a spot in Cooperstown and it was well worth the wait.

Also see:

How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy
Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?

 

Play ‘Til You’re Dead: Why Overtime is the Best Way to Decide a Game

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Two recent events added to the case against having penalty shootouts decide a game, the gold medal game of the World Junior Hockey Championships and the MLS Cup final game.

I’m not sure if Team Canada would have won the gold medal game against the Americans last Thursday in Montreal if they were able to continue playing in overtime. If anything, the Canadians looked pretty listless after coughing up their second 2-goal lead of the game. The last ten minutes of regulation and all of the 20-minute sudden-death OT, save for a power play, was controlled by the US. Perhaps Canada’s only chance to win the gold medal was to have the game decided in a shootout. Had Canada lost in overtime, there would have been disappointment but I can bet you no one would be complaining about the method used to decide the winner.

The same goes with soccer (or football as Europeans call it). Fans of Toronto FC were left disappointed that the MLS Cup final was decided on penalty kicks. Unlike Canada’s Junior Team, Toronto FC players were dominant nearly winning it in extra time. Only a great acrobatic save by Seattle’s goalkeeper prevented the game from ending. Often the championship game in soccer in any level ends in penalty kicks. And like the hockey shootout, it is also a dull, lazy way to decide a game.

One argument for a shootout or penalty kick to decide a game is that players can not play for that long a period. But I would say that if these athletes are indeed the most fit and are in great physical shape as everyone claims, then they should be able to play as long as it takes until someone scores. In fact, stamina and fatigue should be as much of a factor as skill when determining a winner. If you can’t overcome being out of breath then you probably shouldn’t deserve being called a champion. The game should take as long as it wants to decide a winner. That to me is a true champion.

Overtime in the NHL playoffs showed us why playing until the next team scores is not only the best way to decide a game, it is also the most exciting. Hardly anyone leaves before the winning goal is scored regardless of how late it goes. I was at a pair of Blue Jays regular season games this past season, both went into extra innings and both ended in Blue Jays comeback victories. My friend and I stayed until the very end and so did many of the fans at the Dome. This despite the fact both games were played on a weeknight and many in attendance probably had to get up early the next day.

The consensus against shootouts to decide a championship game, and even in regular season games, is growing. I’m not sure how anyone can continue to allow games of this importance to be decided this way. But until people start to become tired about hearing players getting tired, or that the game goes too long, the skills competition portion will continue to reign in sports.

Also see:

International Rules in the NHL? No Thanks
Lessons From the World Juniors
The Lack of Animosity is Hurting the World Cup of Hockey